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Cancer. 1994 Jul 15;74(2):606-17.

Thymoma. Histologic subclassification is an independent prognostic factor.

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Department of Pathology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston 02114.



Several histologic classifications of thymomas have been proposed, and attempts have been made to correlate the different histologic subtypes to clinical behavior and prognosis. Recently, Marino and Müller-Hermelink and Kirchner et al. proposed a new morphologic classification of thymomas based on the resemblance of the neoplastic cells to subtypes of the normal thymic epithelial cells. In this classification, six categories of thymic epithelial tumors are recognized. They define four categories of thymoma: medullary, mixed, organoid (predominantly cortical), and cortical, and two subgroups of thymic carcinomas: well differentiated thymic carcinoma and high grade carcinomas.


The authors studied 116 patients with thymic epithelial tumors classified according to the proposals of Marino and Müller-Hermelink and Kirchner et al. to assess the effect of histologic classification and other factors (stage, size of tumor, lymphoid hyperplasia, myasthenia gravis, age, sex, and treatment) on survival, and freedom from relapse.


Eight cases (7%) were medullary, 32 cases (28%) mixed, 20 cases (17%) organoid (predominantly cortical), 21 cases (18%) cortical, 29 cases (25%) well differentiated carcinoma (WDTC), two cases (2%) high grade carcinoma, and four cases (3%) unclassifiable. Fifty-two patients were in stage I, 32 stage II (16 IIA, 16 IIB), 28 stage III, and four Stage IVA. Only stage (P = 0.0001; hazard ratio = 5.36) and histology (P = 0.0019; hazard ratio = 8.010) were significant in predicting recurrence. Histology was highly correlated with stage, but by multivariate analysis was an independent factor in predicting relapse (P = 0.0281; hazard ratio = 5.92). None of the medullary or mixed thymomas recurred, even though 30% were invasive. Patients with WDTC recurred more often and earlier than patients with organoid and cortical thymoma (log rank, P = 0.0001). The actuarial freedom from relapse for patients with WDTC was 58% at 5 years and 46% at 10 years compared with 100% for other subtypes. Both advanced stage (III and IV) and the WDTC histologic subtype significantly increased the risk of death from thymoma (log rank, P = 0.0001). The actuarial survival of patients with WDTC was 80% at 5 years and 54% at 10 years, whereas that of patients with the other subtypes was 100% at 5 and 10 years. Five of seven relapses and six of seven deaths from thymoma occurred in patients with WDTC. In Stage II patients, one of 16 minimally invasive (Stage IIA) tumors recurred, compared with 3 of 16 grossly invasive (Stage IIB) tumors, indicating that microscopic assessment of invasion is important in staging.


The histologic classification of Marino and Müller-Hermelink has prognostic significance, independent of tumor stage. Medullary and mixed thymomas were benign tumors with no risk of recurrence, even when capsular invasion was present. Organoid and cortical thymoma showed intermediate invasiveness and a low, but significant, risk of late relapse, even with minimal invasion. WDTC were always invasive and had a significantly increased risk of relapse and death, even for Stage II patients. Adjuvant therapy appears unnecessary for medullary and mixed thymomas, even when invasive.

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